Mari Mahr

© Mari Mahr (1981) - Canyon 1916, from the series Georgia O'Keeffe

The past and the present are fused with Mahr’s work. That is the photograph printed (occurring in the past) and the object which appears in front of it (the present).

Incidentally, after the printed photograph and the object in front of it are photographed again (which is necessary for it to be formed as an art work), the printed photograph remains in the past but further removed. The formerly-present object in front of it becomes the past as well. For me this creates a kind of tension between what is past and present.

© Mari Mahr (1985) - A Few Days in Geneva
Fig. 1 © Mari Mahr – ‘A Few Days in Geneva’ (1985)

The object being placed in front of the printed photograph is simultaneously closer to the viewer yet connected to the photograph in the background. Although the connection is never really believable (the obvious shadows falling from the object onto the print suggest this for me), the clever juxtapositions of object in relation to printed photograph create a palpable relationship. The use of a black and white medium in most of Mahr’s work contributes to this illusion as it moves the two elements of the eventual photograph into a fictional world. This world is never realistic as mentioned as there are shadows presumably deliberately placed on the surface of the already-past photograph by the object.

The fact this combination of printed photograph and object has to be photographed in order to be seen poses a question for me… What if another (or same) object was placed in front of the newly formed photograph? Also of interest might be the removal of the object in front of the printed photograph and the inclusion of an object behind the photograph by cutting out a part of the photograph beforehand.

I decided to try out some of these ideas for myself using a self-portrait. Firstly, I printed the self-portrait and placed some earphones on the surface of the photograph and rephotographed the photograph. The results were surprisingly realistic in my eyes, similar to Mahr’s work. Here there is an element of believability lasting for a second or two, followed by questioning and answering of these questions through closer scrutiny.

Mari Mahr Inspired Object Placed on Printed Photograph
Fig. 2 Mari Mahr Inspired Object Placed On Printed Photograph

Secondly I cut out a part of the self-portrait, the inner-part of one side to the frame of my glasses. I then filled this gap from behind with the lens of a camera and rephotographed the print. This gave the illusion that one of my eyes had been replaced by a camera lens. It did make me think of a dystopian future where half humans/half robots (presumably with a camera for an eye ruled the world! Subsequently it made me think of the micro-cameras fitted to glasses nowadays and that maybe this future isn’t so far off after all. More importantly for me, it gave me a few ideas about using this technique going forwards; namely putting objects behind the printed photograph to give the illusion that something improbable had happened.

Inspiration From Mari Mahr But with Object Placed Behind Printed Photograph
Fig. 3 Inspiration From Mari Mahr But with Object Placed Behind Printed Photograph

As a side note I did appreciate the colour work of Mahr more which, as far I know, only features on one occasion in the series titled Georgia O’Keeffe (1981). Here, the strategies Mahr employs to make her work are much more apparent, with the colour only serving to accentuate these discrepancies in the illusion. There remain the telltale shadows of the objects in the foreground but this time the backgrounds seem deliberately creased or simplistic. Yet for me the illusion of a 3-dimensional world for each of the works is still there.

© Mari Mahr (1981) - Canyon 1916, from the series Georgia O'Keeffe
Fig. 4 © Mari Mahr – ‘Canyon 1916, from the series Georgia O’Keeffe’ (1981)


Fig. 1 Mahr, M. (1985) A Few Days in Geneva. [Photograph] Retrieved from: (Accessed 25/02/2019).

Fig. 4 Mahr, M. (1981) Canyon 1916. From the series Georgia O’Keeffe. [Photograph] Retrieved from: (Accessed 25/02/2019).


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